Thursday, 26 December 2013

Renovating the Pantry

Over the past few weeks Simon has been hard at work renovating our pantry. The picture below shows you what he started with.
The original intention had just been to block off the window as a temporary measure and mouseproof the room. The window is in poor condition and lets in a lot of both heat and cold, but we didn't want to have to spend the money replacing it just yet. He's created a false wall with insulation behind and lined the recess with plasterboard. It now makes a handy nook for boxes of wine.
The pantry is in the oldest part of the building and was the old grain merchant's office. When we bought the place we gave it a quick lick of cream paint to freshen it up a bit and it served initially as our bedroom, then as the temporary kitchen. The only real renovation work that was done on it was putting up plasterboard on the ceiling, with a layer of fibreglass insulation above, and doing the electrics. Once the proper kitchen was installed it became the pantry.

This autumn for the first time we started getting mice and we couldn't keep them out, so we took everything out with a view to blocking up all the holes. It was clear that the mice could come in under the walls just about anywhere. There are no foundations and the vide sanitaire under the granary is higher than the floor level of the pantry. Simon decided to initially block the holes with expanding foam, then dry line the room with plasterboard. He's never really done this on his own, so just hoped he had learnt enough by watching Stéphane and Patrick to make a success of it. He needn't have worried. With fairly minimal swearing he has managed a perfectly competant job of putting the plasterboard up and plastering the joints then the hateful job of sanding. I'm very proud of him.

The original terracotta tiles are laid directly on the earth, with no grouting. We didn't want to lift them, but they weren't terribly hygenic looking so Simon washed them with a Starwax detergent that was suitable, then I gave them a couple of coats of Sarpasol to revive them and help repel dirt. He's finished the room by installing the lights and repositioning the powerpoints and painting it a subtle duck egg colour.
He was determined to get it finished by Christmas, and on 23 December he installed new shelving and we reinstated everything. The freezer, which so far has lived in the kitchen still needs to be moved and he has one or two ideas for improving the initial arrangement of storage, but essentially it's finished.
In total we spent about €120 of 'new money' on the renovation, relying mostly on using up stocks that we already had of plasterboard, storage units and other hardware.
Au potager hier: The first few spring onions are showing through the earth and a garlic.
Mobile Phones: Simon treated us both to new mobile phones for Christmas, using some money from his birthday present. They are dual SIM phones and our idea is to continue using our current Virgin UK pay as you go numbers on one of the SIMs and buy a second SIM which will give us a French number.  We don't use the phones much at all - even allowing for roaming charges Simon's mobile phone bill can be as much as 30 pence a month - so it isn't as if we need an "all you can eat" plan. Now we have the task of wading through all the deals on offer and try to make sense of which ones are the least worst for us. We don't need to be able to make international calls on the French SIM, it's mainly for incoming calls and some texting.

For our sort of usage, most French mobile phone deals appear to be a complete rip off. If you don't use your credit with PAYG within the specified time period, the telecomms provider pockets the balance. It's a delicate juggling act to spend the least amount possible that is valid for the longest possible time. So far, the smallest block of credit top up we can find is €5, and the longest credit remains valid without top up is 6 months. Needless to say, these two offers are not from the same company, and we would not use €5 worth of credit in the measly amount of time the phone company allows. The bigger the block of credit one buys the lower the cost per unit of calls and the longer the credit remains valid. Prices for calls out vary between 5c and 35c per minute. Texts are around 5-7c. Calls in are free. After some research, the LeClerc Formule Mini+ package looks OK and we are also considering SIM+ and NFR.

If anyone has experience of buying a simple basic mobile phone package in France and has some hints for getting the best deal, please let us know.
Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for Social Wasps Vespidae.


  1. I think, on balance, the "'Tis I, LeClerc!" option is the best...
    the charges are really pretty low!!
    The Sim+ is definately the "Madonna with the big boobies"...
    especially if you forget to switch sims initially when you go abroad...
    but the final one [NRJ mobile] would give you most of the first...
    but at an outlay of 20€ per annum pre-pay-ed...
    so it really depends on "are we going to use 20€ each a year making calls?"
    There is only a 2$ difference between the two.
    The "'Tis I" option looks a bit more flexible...
    I took a close look because Pauline is thinking of getting a French mobile...

    I added a bit to the "Italian Scooters"idae...
    but forgot to mention their love of caterpillars...
    watched them feasting on Gooseberry Sawfly larvae once...
    very thorough!
    They were getting them from places I hadn't spotted.
    They didn't do a complete job tho'...
    there were only about six of them...
    and we had five bushes under attack!!

  2. The two dollars should read two €uros... but I pressed the wrong 'Alt' key.

  3. We have found it cheaper to use our UK virgin mobiles in France. The last French SIM we had was €0.50 a minute which is more than the £0.28 per minute UK virgin mobile. It alas expired!!! never to be replaced!!!

  4. Don't forget to check your reception quality. I got done when I swapped from French PAYG [which like you I was find a complete rip off] to Free.
    They offer €2 a month unlimited calls and txts cancel anytime package which would have been perfect for my usage unfortunately even with checking the coverage map it still turned out that there was no reception at our house :-(.
    Orange seems to have the best coverage in rural areas so I've gone to its cheaper baby brother SOSH.
    That said Niall [who uses his phone less than I do] has a UK PAYG from O2 as that is by far the best option if you don't make a lot of calls/txts.

    Great job Simon!

  5. Bravo, Simon!

    Sorry, can't help with the monile dilemma. We are not in France that much so use our UK mobiles. However, I shall be interested to know what you eventually decide to do as my circumstances change and I spend more time in France.

    I think Antoinette's point about coverage is important. Tim's company mobile doesn't have coverage at our house in the UK, which is a complete pain when you work from home!!

    As you say you want the deal where you lose the least!!

  6. Antoinette: Free gets a lot of complaints about coverage, so we weren't considering them. My Virgin UK SIM connects to what ever network is most powerful wherever I am. I assume one can get French SIMs that do the same. I'm currently connected to Bouygues with my UK SIM. Curiously, Simon's Virgin SIM says he is connected to Orange. It seems to me that coverage is a matter of suck it and see often.

    Because both SIMs are in the phone simultaneously, in a way coverage is the least of our concerns. It appears to be very easy to switch from one to the other if you want to use the phone.

    The idea of having a French number is so we have a number to give to French people who are not comfortable about ringing a foreign number. Some don't mind eg Gaudrelle have a phone deal which means they can ring any mobile for free, whether the number is French or not. Others are bemused when we tell them the number is UK.

  7. Susan, my Virgin Sim [French] insists on trying to connect to Virgin...
    at zero to two bars...
    because it can sense it...
    I then either have to manually detect transmitters and select our strong one...
    or wait three or four minutes for the 'fone to decide that Virgin isn't playing...
    and then select automatically...
    and there is NO option to fix it to that good signal!!
    It can be a "pain in the..."

    I rather like the way the "temporary" inglenook seems to fill up with wine boxes over the last three pix!!

  8. That's a super job done....and in so short as time too with minimal outlay.
    That'll keep the mice off the booze.....

  9. Check out lefrenchmobile, have used it for a year without a problem

  10. Simon is very handy and learned well. That was a cheap renovation too but it looks expansive.

  11. HD: yeah, those rowdy parties were getting on my nerves.

  12. Well done! We are still on our upstairs kitchen. Hoping to finish it over New Year.

  13. Roger: I had looked at lefrenchmobile and initially dismissed it as something for foreign students or business people here temporarily and therefore likely to be expensive. However, I've had a good look at the site now and it is the only company offering credit that doesn't expire. Its tariffs are dearer than LeClerc, but the monthly fee about the same. It is worth considering.

    Nadege: Thank you.

    Fraussie: Good luck! Hope it doesn't do a fireplace on you.